© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Nation & World

Aaron Yang: Voracious Reader Or Giant Pain To Librarians?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Librarians will tell you, if you don't know the answer, look it up. They'll even help. But right now, lots of librarians have this question - just who is Aaron Yang? From Chicago, Anne Ford reports on the mystery.

ANNE FORD, BYLINE: There are about 9,000 public libraries across the country, and nearly every one has a summer reading program. They're designed to keep kids and adults opening books during the summer. Participants are on the honor system and use a website to track their reading. In return, they can get some library swag - things like keychains or notepads. For years, Pennsylvania librarian Rebekah Garrety has heard from dozens of colleagues who have received the same email.

REBEKAH GARRETY: I signed up for the teen summer reading, but I live in California. Is it possible to mail my prizes to me? I really appreciate it.

FORD: These emails are signed Aaron Yang. If he gets a yes, Yang thanks them. If he gets a no, Aaron Yang asks again and, yes, again.

AARON YANG: They think I'm a scam - a scam or a spambot, not even human.

FORD: Aaron Yang is definitely a human. He's a 20-year-old in Southern California. He says his passion for summer reading programs started when he was 14 and clicked on the wrong one online.

YANG: And only when I'd finished participating in it, I realized, oh, no, they're in Texas.

FORD: After he explained, the library mailed him his prizes anyway. Then he was off and running. By his count, he's now contacted around a thousand libraries and acquired untold numbers of pencils, stickers and awards.

Wina Mortenson is a librarian in Galesburg, Wis. When Aaron Yang signed up for her library's reading program, she thought...

WINA MORTENSON: Maybe this is someone I've never met before, or maybe they live a little farther away like La Crosse.

FORD: When she learned he lived in California, she cheerfully mailed Aaron his prizes.

MORTENSON: It's just what makes him happy. When he first said, oh, some librarians hate me, I said, librarians?

GENNA MICKEY: When people get an email from Aaron, they say they've gotten Yanged (ph).

FORD: That's Genna Mickey, a librarian in Sugar Grove, Ill. Her library got Yanged a few years ago.

MICKEY: At the time when I found out, I was amused.

FORD: But Mickey says she's not amused anymore. And she isn't the only librarian who bristles at emails from Yang.

MICKEY: Libraries are underfunded as it is. So I think he's taking advantage of the good-heartedness of some librarians. And by doing that, he's taking resources from their community.

FORD: But Aaron Yang insists he's in it for the programs themselves, not the prizes. In Wisconsin, librarian Wina Mortenson says she doesn't understand why anyone would object.

MORTENSON: If we can do a service to somebody who is halfway across the country from us, I say, hooray. I mean, you just have to have fun with him.

FORD: Rebekah Garrety in Felton, Pa., understands why underfunded libraries might get territorial about the communities they serve. Even so, she says she's on Yang's side.

GARRETY: I think he has a genuine love for libraries and a genuine love for learning and kind of expanding his own horizons. And I think he just likes things.

FORD: And yes, those things cost money, but a library's mission is to keep people reading. Meanwhile, Yang's activities have inspired some new swag. Thanks to one of his librarian fans, you can now buy a T-shirt online that reads, We Are All Aaron Yang. For NPR News, I'm Anne Ford in Chicago.

[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly state that Wina Mortenson is a librarian in Galesburg, Wisconsin. In fact, she is a librarian in Galesville, Wisconsin.]

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.